Friday, May 16, 2014

The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs (1999)

1. Every little kid with any kind of artistic ambitions is a big fan of conceptual pieces. I’ve spent many hours watching MTV and VIVA, coming up with thoroughly thought-out concept albums, all with tracklists filled with number magic and hidden meanings.
2. To be honest, I’m still a pretty big fan of concepts and numbers.
3. That’s why a three-volumed album named “69 Love Songs”, released in 1999 (no summer of love indeed) – actually consisting of 69 love songs is endlessly enthralling. 
4. Coming up with such a crazy idea could’ve only happened in the nineties and it could’ve only been born in one man’s mind. 
5. Stephin Merritt – a quirky poet, whose deep bass voice can barely hold a note, a man relentless enough to actually realize the idea. 

6. And it only requires a nonchalant listen of “69 Love Songs” to understand that this album doesn’t belong to the 21st century. Although dangerously close to the millennium, it’s a piece of music unmistakably rooted in the nineties, almost like an afterthought or a closure for a decade full of charismatic weirdos and a hope for innovation and a better future.
7. Of course “69 Love Songs” has other crazy siblings all over the world. 
8. Jaan Pehk (or as we called him before he became an all-family-favourite – Orelipoiss) released an album called “99” in 2007, which truthfully consisted of 99 tracks. 
9. But Orelipoiss went the easy way, filling the tracklist with songs lasting only for counted seconds and feeling more like intros. 
10. It’s still an excellent album, which could’ve only been made by a quirky poet, who sings like a choir boy trapped in a bearded man’s body, also a man relentless enough to actually realize the idea.
11. The Magnetic Fields did the real thing. The album has four songs that last less than 60 seconds, which is still an impressive result for an album consisting of the-number-that-makes-adolescent-boys-laugh songs.
12. But 
13. the
14. numbers 
15. don’t
16. really
17. matter.
18. Irregardless of the myth surrounding it, in the end it’s still three discs of simple but brilliant three-chord love songs about love songs.
19. As Merritt himself said: "69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love".
20. That’s probably the only way a project so saccharine could’ve survived.
21. You can find absolutely every extreme on it.

22. There are songs written about the highest ecstasy of love (“Absolutely Cuckoo”, “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits”).
23. Songs that should definitely be slow-danced to at someone’s 50th wedding anniversary (“The Book of Love”, “Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old”).

24. And a lot of songs that can make a grown man cry (“No One Will Ever Love You”, “Epitaph for My Heart”, “I Can’t Touch You Anymore”, “All My Little Words”, “The One You Really Love”). 
25. There’s also the saddest anthem ever  for all aimlessly wandering outcasts, “Papa Was A Rodeo”, a song that unites a bunch of lonely people in a crowded room for a drunken heartfelt singalong.
26. I’ve seen that happen several times.

27. The emotional impact of “69 Love Songs” is beyond compare for anyone who has a heart. 
28. If you don’t have one, you’ll just listen to “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be” and cry nonetheless.
29. But as an illustration of the nineties, “69 Love Songs” isn’t a hopeless album. They still believed in progress and things getting better back then.
30. Songs like “I Don’t Wanna Get Over You”, “Meaningless”, “Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin” and “(Crazy For You) But Not That Crazy” are filled with weird optism pouring from clever lyrics and even if your love life is a mess, being clever is still a pretty good accomplishment on its own.
31. Heck, there’s even the best dance track anyone’s ever written about a dog’s mating season (“Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long”). After all, canine love shouldn’t be excluded from an album named like that.

32. At that point I can almost hear Morrissey leaning in to whisper: “And if you're so clever, then why are you on your own tonight?”
33. With an attitude like that, it’s clear why Morrissey doesn’t have an album named “69 Love Songs”.
34. Listening to any album for three hours straight can be really tiring. 
35. I bet it’s almost as tiring as reading to a review structured like this one.
36. But The Magnetic Fields made it almost impossible to zone out and lose one’s attention. 
37. As I previously mentioned, the album is a rollercoaster of emotions, but if you’re one of these people who doesn’t believe in feelings, then “69 Love Songs” also offers an impressive range of genre-hopping from baroque-pop to country, world music and blues included.
38. The majority of the album consists of folky singer-songwriter tunes, but the bleakest songs often come in the form of cold eighties-feeling synthpop tracks sung by female vocalists Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms.

39. There’s also another use for electronics – to create a bubbly atmosphere, almost sounding like kids improvising on keyboards made from legos. 
40. Some tracks can be dismissed as interludes, until discovering after a few listens that these are actually the songs that inhabit one’s mind the most.
41. The passive-aggressive a capella “How Fucking Romantic” is a perfect example of that. 
42. A great tune with lyrics to be reminded and shouted at every disgusting couple exposing their PDA for all the world to see. 
43. Of course it could be longer than 59 seconds, I don’t think anyone would mind. But what would be the point? 
44. The Magnetic Fields have managed a seemingly impossible task of balancing between short songs and a lenghty total.
45. A song only a second shorter than “How Fucking Romantic”, “Punk Love” is a messy sonic assault that fits perfectly between the peasant folk of “The One You Really Love” and aristocratic electronics of “Parades Go By”.
46. The same goes for 30 seconds of “Experimental Music Love”, which sounds exactly like something a couple in love would do while getting high and messing around with FruityLoops.

47. Which only underlines once again, that in 1999 Merritt really believed in progress while torturing his delay pedal.
48. In moments like this, the real genius of “69 Love Songs” is revealed. It’s an ambitious project filled with seemingly meaningless snippets, which secretly tie the album into a whole.
49. Every one of those three discs could’ve been a great album.
50. Which only leads us to the biggest question of them all.
51. Which one is the best?
52. Here’s another catch The Magnetic Fields have managed – while every one of these discs has some songs more forgettable than the others, they’re hidden between the classics. 
53. To buy a cheap copy of “69 Love Songs” with one CD missing, would possibly mean losing your new favourite song.
54. While talking about cheap copies, you can also buy the album in the form of six 10’’ vinyls, currently on sale on Discogs from €215.06.
55. And as much as I like owning my favourite albums on vinyl, I don’t believe this one should be listened to in that way. 
56. It took me a long time to admit it, but some records are really composed and produced in a way that sounds a lot better digitally.
57. “69 Love Songs” is one of them, perfect in all its compressed imperfections.
58. Still, it’s almost impossible to listen to the album all in one sitting.
59. I almost feel sorry for these poor souls going through it for the first time. It’s a lot to take in at once.
60. But don’t worry, the album won’t go away. It’s like a book that’s worth flipping through every once and a while.
61. When you’re more familiar with it, you’ll always know the tracks you need to return to for help or amusement.
62. In that way, “69 Love Songs” is weirdly similar to the Bible and phone books.
63. After years of listening, you always accidentally stumble upon a song you never really paid any attention to, but which sat there, just waiting for you in the unexplainably hot Estonian spring, just like the reggae-tinged “It’s A Crime” did for me today.

64. It’s actually a shame that some Estonian girl band didn’t discover that song in 1999 and then cover it at Pühajärve Beach Party. 
65. History has some cruel turns and here I am with another great Estonian non-original summer hit that never happened.
66. There’s also a reason I’m very glad that “69 Love Songs” isn’t a book, but a compilation of catchy tunes.
67. Merritt himself wrote: “The book of love is long and boring / and written very long ago / it's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes /and things we're all too young to know”.
68. The album of songs about love songs is long and interesting.
69. And this is the last song.

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